Many companies talk a good game when it comes to advertising their culture. They have splashing videos on their career pages and publish trendy TikToks. Yet the culture they’re trying to promote frequently loses momentum from the start.
This isn’t a pandemic-related phenomenon, either. A United Minds report from 2019 showed that only 28% of employees saw alignment between their employers’ values and actions. Nearly one-third believed a cultural crisis was looming. Fast forward to 2022, and MIT Sloan research has named toxic workplace culture as the No. 1 predictor of talent attrition.
In other words, having a great culture matters. However, many companies just aren’t doing enough to keep performers culturally satisfied. Microsoft reporting indicates that 41% of workers are open to switching employers, and if they do, they’ll continue the ripples created by reshuffling amid the Great Resignation. As a result, all stakeholders — right down to customers — will lose out.
If the culture within your company isn’t as cohesive and appealing as it could be, these three steps can help:
1. Put respect front and center.
In a great workplace culture, all employees treat one another with respect. Leaders must set a great example of this by displaying respect for employees and their needs.
Chris Konopasek, vice president of operations and co-founder at Table Needs, has seen the upside of leaders who intentionally demonstrate the behaviors they expect from their teams. As Konopasek explains, “The values you demonstrate regularly will start rubbing off on those you’re working with.”
He adds that leaders must be present to make an impact. The manager who sits out of sight all day isn’t demonstrating a culture that, in Konopasek’s experience, “puts people first.”
A study conducted by Kansas State University and the University of Missouri supports the importance of respect for employees and culture. When asked, participants overwhelmingly wanted to be respected. Leaders must set a precedent for respectful engagement across the workplace.
2. Pay attention to remote employees’ needs.
Virtual work isn’t going anywhere. According to Gallup, nearly half of full-time employees surveyed said they worked remotely at least part of the time in 2021. This is good from a flexibility standpoint because working off-site can be a boon to employees. Nevertheless, home-based workers can quickly feel out of the loop.
If you have remote employees, take special steps to weave them into the fabric of your desired culture. For example, keep them in communication chains and let them know when you’ve made decisions. It can be very frustrating, even alienating, for remote workers to learn that they’ve been left out of messaging.
Technology can be an invaluable tool to keep virtual workers tethered culturally. Many remote workers miss social interaction the most, but leaders can use one of many available digital platforms to connect employees through video calls. Many of these tools also have file-sharing and task-management capabilities.
Too much screen time can wear people down, though, so be sure to consider possibilities for screenless activities as well. If employees can’t have small group or team meetups in person, consider setting up a snail-mail chain or other means of offline connection.
The bottom line is that you can’t go wrong with overcommunication. The more involved all employees feel, the stronger their ties will be to the “nest.”
3. Be open to employee realities.
When you think of toxic work culture, you might picture a corporation led by a nasty, cold-hearted boss. But an overload of positivity can feel just as dreadful, especially to employees who want to be candid about their emotions.
The pandemic shed light on the reality that we must accept and acknowledge the humanness of workers. The University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers conducted some studies on essential employees during the first months of COVID and found that 86% of essential workers were experiencing heightened stress.
You can’t expect employees to “turn off” these feelings, but you can’t let them suffer, either. Listen and respond appropriately to employees having difficult days. This will allow workers to feel heard and supported by an empathetic culture. They can then pass along the genuine sense of compassion they’ve experienced to their co-workers and even your customers.
Culture may start with visionary words written on a page. Just make sure it extends beyond those words in the behaviors of team leads.